Peace in Australia

By Leanne Simon

It’s springtime here now and the jacaranda trees litter campus with fragrant purple petals, magpies swoop cyclists to protect their hatchlings, and pale geckos come wriggling up the walls in search of a late-night snack. A pair of abandoned ducklings approached us on the riverside path last weekend and we housed them in our bathtub until the veterinarian’s office opened on Monday. We saw them again on campus after wildlife rescue reunited them with their mother (or a good enough substitute). We visited the Sunshine Coast and Steve Irwin Zoo and cavorted with wombats, otters, and a lackadaisical tortoise named Goliath.

At the Peace Centre, we are finishing up our second semester and preparing for our field placements. I am thrilled to announce that I have been accepted to work with Save the Children in Fiji over the summer (November-February). My position is on the Monitoring, Evaluation, Assessment and Learning (MEAL) team and I will be working primarily on two projects. Before I explain those, allow me to give some context as to the situation in Fiji.

On February 20th, 2016, the most powerful cyclone in recorded history to make landfall in the South Pacific smashed the shores of the archipelago nation. Around 350,000 people (including 120,000 children) were affected as entire communities were decimated by the strong winds, waves, and flooding. Approximately 40% of the nation’s children are still suffering the effects of the storm. Nearly one year after the damage, many of the schools and homes have not been repaired. Save the Children has been working tirelessly to restore and maintain infrastructures (including education and water & sanitation) and offer continued protections for children at risk of harm.

My role on their team will be to review and organize digital data (photos, video, audio) taken by staff, volunteers, and community members in the aftermath of Winston and use them to create short videos for online use. I will also be gathering my own footage and interviews to splice in with these to make a longer film that will screen on February 20th- at a remembrance celebration on the anniversary of the storm. In addition to this, I will be undertaking my own work with children in the affected communities. This will be a child-led participatory video project that focuses on what they see as special or important about their communities, families or selves with the goal of building resiliency and youth leadership.

I leave for Fiji on November 15th, and my family will join me on December 10th. Until then, I am preparing to be unprepared for what the situation will be.

Operating in the wake of a natural disaster is unlike other peace work. There are no negotiations, there is no disarmament. What has happened is done, and there was never anything possible to prevent it. The job in these regions is to pick up the pieces and try to rebuild. The hope is that it works like Kintsugi- the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold- that you end up with something stronger and more beautiful than before it was damaged. But, as with all peace work, you only begin to know the result of your effort years later.

My next dispatch will be from Suva, Fiji. Until then, you can keep up with our adventures at my blog:

Posted in Peace Fellows.